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Roll call for eye care equipment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector

A new project to count and catalogue eye care equipment in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector is part of a wider Australian Government program to ensure improved access to eye checks for Indigenous Australians with diabetes.
 
The Fred Hollows Foundation is being funded by the Australian Government to prepare the National Eye Care Equipment Inventory. The inventory will assist the government to meet its commitment to close the gap for vision by providing retinal cameras and slit lamps for eye tests, combined with training for the primary health care workforce.
 
The inventory will capture information about the accessibility and availability of eye care equipment in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector across Australia. It will also identify and prioritise eye care equipment needs in regions that are undertaking activities to implement the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision.  
 
Optometrist Lisa Penrose is assisting primary health care services in communities around Australia to conduct the survey. Part of her role involves helping services to identify equipment that may not be fully utilised because of the need for training or for repairs. “Sometimes people are not quite sure what the equipment is,” she said. “They can text me a photo – it’s important to include that equipment whether or not it is working.”
 
As coordinator, Lisa makes sure all facilities receive the inventory document and can contact her with questions about filling it in. “We also need to know what equipment is used by visiting providers – everything has to be counted, including portable equipment,” she said. Lisa is visiting facilities around Australia to spread the word and said the response had been enthusiastic. 
 
On 1 November 2016, the new Medicare item for diabetic retinopathy screening comes into effect. With gaps in equipment identified, the Australian Government’s rollout of retinal cameras and slit lamps to targeted communities can begin. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will have improved access to retinal cameras and staff will be trained and ready to help close the gap for vision,” Lisa said.
 
Over the next year, the project team will develop a ‘sector endorsed’ eye care equipment needs prioritisation criteria for use by both government and the broader eye care sector. This criteria is expected to guide the future allocation of funds for identified equipment needs and ensure a more effective use of resources to close the gap for vision. 
 
The need is clear. Around 37 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have diabetes and 13 per cent have already lost vision through diabetic retinopathy. All people with diabetes need their eyes tested annually, but only one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes had their eyes tested in the last year.
 
For more information about the vital work of the National Eye Care Equipment Inventory Project, contact The Fred Hollows Foundation at inventory@hollows.org
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